William C. Gerrity, Assistant Director on 'The French Connection' and 'Naked City,' Dies at 86

William Gerrity - S 2015
Courtesy of DGA

He braved the chaotic New York City streets of his hometown to work on both projects.

William C. Gerrity, the acclaimed assistant director who took to the gritty streets of New York City to work on the 1960s ABC series Naked City and the 1971 film The French Connection, has died. He was 86.

Gerrity, the recipient of the DGA’s Frank Capra Achievement Award in 1983, died Nov. 15, his family announced. He left California in 2006 and was a resident of the Del Tura community in North Fort Myers, Fla.

Gerrity’s first job in the business was as assistant director to Elia Kazan on A Face in the Crowd (1957), and he went on to work for Sidney Lumet on Stage Struck (1958) and That Kind of Woman (1959); for Arthur Penn on Alice’s Restaurant (1969); for Herbert Ross on The Owl and the Pussycat (1970) and Play It Again, Sam (1972); and for Alan J. Pakula on Klute (1971).

Gerrity, whose father was a film grip, did nearly 120 episodes (and some of the 8 million stories) of Naked City, the documentary-style cop drama created by Stirling Silliphant that filmed on the sidewalks and streets of New York and aired from 1958-63.

“I remember on Naked City, jumping off the camera car while driving through the Midtown Tunnel and trying to stop the traffic behind me,” he said in a 2011 interview with David Geffner that appears on the DGA website.

After collaborating with William Friedkin on the 1970 film The Boys in the Band, the New York native reteamed with the director on  French Connection, famous for its intense sequence in which Gene Hackman’s Det. Popeye Doyle, driving a 1971 Pontiac LeMans, frantically tries to keep up with the bad guy in the elevated train above him.

“We had to do it in one-to-two block sections because New Yorkers could care less that you’re making a movie,” Gerrity said in the DGA interview. “They’d just cross the street without looking.”

He said that the crew employed a “dummy camera without film” so pedestrians wouldn’t gather in one spot and “used different colored handkerchiefs to signal ‘Cut’ and ‘Action,’ as we did on Naked City.’”

Later in his career, Gerrity shifted to unit production manager on such films as Sophie’s Choice (1982) and Dead Again (1991), both for Pakula; Trading Places (1983); Last Action Hero (1993); and Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994).

Survivors include his children Michael, Kate and Meg; grandchildren Tara Lynne, James, Thomas, Devin, Kasey Marie and Billy; and brother Brendan.

Twitter: @mikebarnes4